AWe know from Goethe’s “Faust”: “Pushes for gold / depends on gold / Yes, everything!” However, representative surveys in seven countries now show that this is not the case. It was commissioned by the wealth researcher Rainer Zitelmann. They are part of his study of “attitudes to the rich”, which appears this Monday in the British journal Economic Affairs. At least 1,000 people in each country took part in the surveys. In Germany the institute interviewed Allensbach, in the other countries Ipsos Mori. Zitelmann added additional data to the study for the FAZ.
According to this, 26 percent of men in Germany state that it is personally important or even very important to them to be rich. The study defines wealth when someone owns more than one million euros in addition to their house. The proportion of materialists is significantly lower among women; of them, not even one in five (18 percent) is important or very important to be rich.
This difference between the sexes is evident in all of the countries examined. In Italy, the USA, Sweden, Spain, France and Great Britain, too, more men strive for big money than women. “You can argue for a long time about why that is so, but the fact is that women are less likely to want to get rich than men,” says the sociologist and historian with a PhD. “You can see that in the number of hits on large finance portals – women read them less often.”
However, there is a clear difference not only between the sexes, but also between the age groups. People under 30 care much more about getting rich than those over 60. In Germany, around one in three young people, at 32 percent, wants to get rich, among older people it is not even one in seven (14 percent). This pattern is also the same in all countries, only in Spain the need is slightly higher among the elderly.
Only 3 percent of all Germans consider the rich to be honest
Study author Zitelmann finds it logical that more young people than older strive for money: “Elementary school children still want to be pilots or astronauts, they still have dreams.” With advancing age, however, these goals are usually lowered. “And those who have not yet managed to get rich by the age of 60 have less hope that it will still work out in the remaining 20 years.”
In general, the study shows, many respondents attribute bad traits to rich people. Only 3 percent of all Germans believe that the rich are “honest”. In Sweden it is 6 percent, in Spain and Italy only one in a hundred. In contrast, 49 percent of Germans consider rich people to be “greedy”. In Italy it is 33 percent, in Sweden 32 percent.
However, the answers to the characteristics of the rich are much more positive if the respondent knows a rich person personally. Then, for example, no longer 3, but 42 percent of Germans consider a wealthy person to be “honest”. The survey results confirm an essential finding from prejudice research: people who know members of minorities (be it rich, black, homosexual or Muslim) personally judge them much more positively than those who only know minorities from the media.
On average, however, social envy is clearly evident in Germany. 51 percent advocate that “the rich should not only pay high, but very high taxes”. Only 32 percent are in favor of “not excessively high taxes”. Every third German even agrees with statements like the one that taxes for millionaires should be increased significantly even if they would not personally benefit from it. In France, the number of those who belong to the group of “envious people” in the study is one percentage point higher, while in the USA (20 percent) and Great Britain (18 percent) it is significantly lower. So are the Germans a people who envy? “You can see the glass half full or half empty here,” replies Zitelmann. “Among the seven nations surveyed, however, the envy was only slightly higher in France.”
“Oh we poor”
There are two main reasons for the poor image of the rich. A very important one is the belief in the so-called zero-sum theory. In this notion, layers fight against each other for an existing wealth: if a rich man gets an extra euro, it is pulled out of the pocket of a poor man at the same time. The opposite of this is the assumption that a society as a whole can move forward – the individual citizens just at different speeds.
In economics, China is usually cited as an example of the fact that the cake can also get bigger overall. In the population, however, belief in a zero-sum game is widespread. 51 percent of Italians and Spaniards, 49 percent of French and 48 percent of Germans agree with the statement “The more the rich have, the less is left for the poor”. In Great Britain (36 percent) and the USA (34 percent) the values are significantly lower.
By the way, the well-known line “Urges for gold / depends on gold / but everything!” Goes even further. The end is just often suppressed. The poet prince concluded: “Oh, we poor!”